Blogs at Amazon

About Chris Schluep

Chris Schluep spent more than a dozen years editing books in New York before moving west. He takes great pride in reading a wide range of books and connecting interested readers with the books they'll love. Chris lives in Seattle with his wife and son, and he feels like he may have one of the best jobs in the world.

Posts by Chris

A Conversation with James Browning, Author of "The Fracking King"

James Browning's The Fracking King is an engaging story about a high school junior named Winston Crwth. "Win," as he's called, is at Pennsylvania's Hale Academy (his third school in as many years), and he's there on a "Dark Scholarship" (paid for by the fracking concern, Dark Oil & Gas). He's also a big Scrabble fan.

Browning populates his novel with quirky, memorable characters, and he does a fine job of combining Scrabble, boarding school, and fracking to create a story that's both entertaining and provocative. The Amazon Editors liked it so much, we picked it as a July Best Book of the Month

FrackingKingI had the pleasure of talking to author James Browning, who aside from being an author, is a spokesman and chief strategist for Common Cause, a government watchdog group:

Chris Schluep: First of all, are you a scrabble fanatic?

James Browning: Scrabble was the only game at which I could beat my step-father, a man who believed that children should be “seen and not heard.” I also played constantly with my mother, and my brother and I played about 300 games one summer when we were supposed to be painting our father’s house in Palo Alto, California.

CS: Can you tell me where the idea for the novel came from?

JB: The novel was mainly inspired by a meeting I had in Harrisburg in 2008, with a legislative aide who looked like Bartleby the Scrivener. He warned me not to use the “c-word” in Harrisburg—by which he meant “corruption”—which was a pretty amazing thing to say because the whole point of my job with Common Cause was fighting government corruption.

This meeting and the feeling I got while working in the state capitol—that I was stuck in some lost novel by George Orwell—gave me a real sense of urgency and feeling of responsibility as I began to look at the issue of fracking in Pennsylvania. Winston Crwth’s own journey to boarding school and then to Harrisburg is also the story of the power of a single word, “fracking,” in the hands of the right person. 

CS:  How long did it take you to write the book?

JB:About two years, but I’ve been writing fiction and hoping to publish a novel for a long time. I wrote a different Scrabble novel back in 1998 when I was in the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins—a story of Scrabble and doomed love.

CS: Why did you choose to set it in a boarding school?

JB: Boarding school is the thing that woke me up politically—as much because I believed in non sibi, “not for self,” the motto of Phillips Academy Andover, but also because of a lingering sense of shame that I did nothing when several of the not-rich kids in my dorm were expelled for breaking school rules for the second or third time, when the rich kids seemed to get four, five, or more chances.

CS: Are you afraid that it will be seen as "just a Fracking novel"? Because it isn't.

JB: The Fracking King can be read as a fracking novel, or a Scrabble novel, or a novel about a kid trying to survive high school. Or as I told my oldest son, a budding icthyologist, the book is like a cuttlefish, which can change colors to look like sand, a rock, a snake.

CS: What's next for you?

JB: I’m writing a novel about reading for the blind, a sort of older sibling to The Fracking King.

I used to work as the night manager at a studio that recorded textbooks for blind and dyslexic students and it was my job to catch any mistakes before these tapes were sent to the master library. The readers were wonderful, very dedicated, and would describe things like the “honeycomb” shape of certain molecules in a way that a blind person could imagine running their hands along the inside of the molecule.

Many years later, I’m still remembering mistakes that got by me, that got by all of us, and which were then copied and sent to who knows how many listeners. The new novel imagines what would happen if some of those mistakes were sent into the world and accepted as reality—and how you would try to fix them.

 

WWII Hero Louis Zamperini Dead at 97

UnbrokenWhen Louis Zamperini's WWII bomber went down over the Pacific Ocean, he probably didn't think my story will become a huge best seller and be made into a movie. Survival was central to his mind as he sat in his little raft in the middle of the ocean. He had to survive intense sun, lack of food and water, leaping sharks, storms, and enemy aircraft. Eventually, he was taken in as a Japanese prisoner of war, where he was mistreated in ways that might have made his open sea experiences seem like a maudlin vacation. But through faith and resilience he survived to tell his tale.

Although his story is well-known to legions of readers, it is worth repeating (and reading and rereading).

Zamperini was born in 1917 to Italian immigrants in Olean, NY. His family moved to California in 1919, where he showed a proclivity for getting into trouble. To channel his energies, he took up boxing and eventually became a world-class runner. He ran the 5,000 meters in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where he finished 8th—but he ran the last lap of the final so quickly that Adolph Hitler reportedly asked to meet him (they shook hands).

Zamperini enlisted in the Air Force in 1941, where he became a bombardier. In 1943, he and his crew were sent to search for a lost aircraft over the Pacific. Their B-24 (commonly known as the “lemon plane”) encountered mechanical difficulties and went down 850 miles west of Oahu. Only three of the eleven men aboard survived. One man, Francis McNamara, died after a month at sea. Zamperini and “Phil” Phillips survived on fish, two albatrosses, and captured rainwater. When they reached the Marshall Islands after forty seven days adrift, they were taken by the Japanese.

Their troubles were far from over.

The movie of his life is scheduled for December of this year. It is based on the inspiring and hugely successful best seller Unbroken.

He also wrote two memoirs: Devil at My Heals and Don't Give Up, Don't Give In (to be published in November).

An Interview with Karin Slaughter, Author of "Cop Town"

CoptownKarin Slaughter is one of the best crime writers around. Her novels are distinguished in part by a rare depth of character, a rare depth that is smart enough to step out of the way of the plot so that readers will keep turning the pages. Her latest is Cop Town—her first stand-alone novel—about a female cop trying to get by in 70s Atlanta. As a rookie cop, Kate Murphy has an uphill climb. But that's just the beginning of her difficulties, with news of a brutal murder and the shooting of a beloved fellow cop.

I caught up with Karin Slaughter at Book Expo America, where we sat down to talk about her book, her research, why she likes to write about Atlanta, and more.

She was an absolute pleasure.

 

An Interview with Lily King, Author of "Euphoria"

LilykingLily King's Euphoria is our Spotlight pick for the Best Books of June. This enchanting novel is based loosely on the life of anthropologist Margaret Mead, and of it, Sara Nelson wrote: "This is the best kind of historical novel--the kind that sent me running to read more about its real-life inspiration."

It's a book that can be read on several levels, and our entire team got behind it. Some admired Euphoria for its potent sense of love and adventure, while others were drawn in by the drama and the revealing examination of how people study other cultures. Booklist summed it up as "a powerful story, at once gritty, sensuous, and captivating," and I couldn't agree more.

I was happy to get a chance to talk to Lily at the Book Expo America this year:

 

 

An Interview with Biz Stone, Twitter Founder and Author

BizA while back I had the pleasure of talking to Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter and author of Things a Little Bird Told Me. Twitter's origin story begins with brainstorming sessions held at Odeo, a podcasting company in San Francisco, where Stone worked after working at a company called Blogger. In the interview below, Stone talks about why they held that brainstorming session, what it was like to get Twitter off the ground, and why you should probably buy your developer a phone if he doesn't have one.

Stone doesn't come from a technical background (at one point, he was a book jacket designer) and his childhood was far from privileged. What he did have was a sound work ethic and the ability to think outside norms—a quality that characterizes so many business successes. In Things a Little Bird Told Me, I found a compelling and inspiring character. The same goes for our conversation below.
Chris Schluep

 

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"Well, How Did I Get Here?" - A Conversation with Karl Ove Knausgaard, Author of "My Struggle"

MyStruggleI first heard about Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle like most other people who have heard about it: through the media. It was just before the U.S. publication of book one (there will eventually be six in the series), and I didn't get to reading it at the time. But it hovered at the edge of my awareness, and it would come up every once in a while. (I remember Colson Whitehead trying to describe it during a lunch, and I remember not really getting it.) Eventually I did pick up My Struggle, and I get it now.

But it's not an easy work to describe. My Struggle is about a man named Karl Ove Knausgaard—a writer, father, and husband, who, like the author, grew up with an alcoholic father. The book is notorious for following the banalities of its protagonist's life. It makes art out of the mundane, keeping a bright light on his feelings as he passes his days, and—maybe my favorite part—striking out at times into truthful exposition on life.

Did that help? I don't know. But it's a literary sensation, and it deserves it. Read on to get a better sense of the book and the author.

 

Chris Schluep: I have begun describing My Struggle as “A Portrait of the Artist as a Man.” How do you describe it?

Karl Ove Knausgaard: I think definitions are enemies of the novel, or at least the opposite of what they try to obtain, but My Struggle certainly is about a man who tries to make art out of life, or life out of art, so your description is accurate. For me, the novel basically is about identity. Its starting point
is the question "well, how did I get here?" A man, me, in the middle of his life, that radically changes: he is a son, but his father dies, and he's a father, which forces him into something new, for him, that is —for at the same time, there is a feeling in him that previous generation's roles and behaviours run through him like a flood. So the question is: what is it to be a person? How much of me is mine? The answer is sought in a long run of descriptions of everyday life, but never found or even pinned down, because, well, that would be the opposite of what a novel does.

Knausgaard_aj_photo2Schluep: The books are alternately described by others as novel and memoir, sometimes as both in the same piece. Where do you fall on that distinction? Were you actively looking to tear down these barriers?

Knausgaard: I just tried to write a novel. This was the only way I could do it at the time. So no, no active down-tearing of anything. But for me, these books definitely are novels. I didn´t try to represent my life, but wanted to use my life as a kind of raw material for a novelistic search for meaning or for meaningful patterns. I use all the novels tools, I can describe one day over three hundred pages, or a year in a sentence. It isn´t fiction, though, it´s non-fiction, but it isn't a documentary or a memoir either: it's a non fiction novel.

Schluep: How close is Karl Ove Knausgaard in the books to Karl Ove Knausgaard in real life? Were you generally conscious of separating the two, or did it not matter to you?

Knausgaard: The books reflects my inner self, this is how the world looks from the inside of me—which means that the feelings are as important as the observations, that everything that happens is soaked with feelings. It also means that there are no real barriers between a description of what I read and what I see or do. So it´s me. But if you meet me, you will have quite a different impression, I guess—because the bodily presence is so very different, always tuned in to the other, always restricted to the social rules, which the written self is not.

Schluep: What authorial advice did you give yourself as you sat down to write the first words of My Struggle?

Knausgaard: Just get over with it.

Schluep: When did you realize there would be six books and why did you make that decision?

Knausgaard: I had written twelve hundred pages or so when I handed it over to my editor. He wanted to publish it, and we discussed how we should do it. One volume? Two? Then he proposed twelve volumes, one each month for a year. That was such a brilliant idea. In the end, they didn't dare; it was too risky economically, so we ended up with six novels, three in the fall, three in the spring. I could part the existing manuscript in six, and the job would have been done, but I parted it in two, so that I had to write four more novels that year. So we published the first in September, and I promoted it while writing the third and editing the second,and when that was published, I wrote the fourth, and so on.

Schluep: Did the success of the first book change your approach to writing the ones that followed?

Knausgaard: Not the success, but the controversy definitively did. I never quite understood the rage that these books would be met by, I was naive and completely underestimated the power of the real-life subject. In book one and book two, I´m as honest and direct as I could be (it's impossible to be absolutely honest, which I understood after a few pages), but when all the attention came, which was insane, I became much more careful and kind. In book six, I wanted to take the ruthlessness back, to save the whole project, and that was extremely difficult, being deliberately immoral, and not just accidentaly immoral.

Schluep: You’ve described the writing of My Struggle as “literary suicide.” Could you explain what you meant by that?

Knausgaard: There should be nothing left when I finished. The author should be dead. To obtain that, I even blew all my ideas and plans for future novels. And I succedeed, the author of these books can never come back. So I have to invent a new one if I want to continue writing.

Schluep: How have you come to terms with your fame?

Knausgaard: I haven't, really. My basic approach is that of denial. In most interviews, I talk about how bad these books are, and what a lousy person I am. That's my defence. At the same time, I´m addicted to it, I google myself all the time. And isn't that a typical addiction behavior, a life of kicks and denials?

A Video Interview with Peter Heller, author of "The Painter"

The PainterPeter Heller caught our attention a couple of years ago with his debut The Dog Stars. Here's what we had to say about it at the time:

Adventure writer Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars is a first novel set in Colorado after a superflu has culled most of humanity. A man named Hig lives in a former airport community—McMansions built along the edge of a runway—which he shares with his 1956 Cessna, his dog, and a slightly untrustworthy survivalist. Poetic, thoughtful, transformative, this novel is a rare combination of the literary and highly readable.

The book was met with wide acclaim and much success—so we eagerly anticipated his next novel. The Painter, about a 45-year-old artist and fly fisherman named Jim Stegner, did not disappoint. In fact, it's even better than The Dog Stars.

Having lost two wives to divorce and his only daughter to violence, The Painter's Jim Stegner has felt the sting of life; but he’s also capable of experiencing great beauty, whether through his art, his relationships, or while out casting on a river. He is a man who is capable of lashing out against the world—the first line in the novel is "I never imagined I would shoot a man."

I sat down to talk to Peter Heller about the inspiration for Stegner, and much more.

 

Dan Roam, Author of "Show and Tell: How Everybody Can Make Extraordinary Presentations"

Show and tellHumans share a number of universal fears. Fear of spiders, snakes, heights, and closed spaces are all worthy Top 10 contenders.

And then there's fear of public speaking (which might as well be described as "public sweating" in my case).

For a lot of us, giving a presentation is at the top of the list. If we have to do it—and many of us must—it becomes an out-of-body experience that we dread like a Brazilian wax.

With this in mind, I always look forward to hearing from seasoned speakers, people who seem to have it all figured out. Dan Roam, author of Show and Tell: How Everybody Can Make Extraordinary Presentations, is one of those people, and during our interview I enjoyed both watching him speak and listening to what he had to say. Dan has a unique view on giving presentations, providing useful tools to help us show and tell (hence, the title)—and to make sure we're at our best during these frightful moments.

 

 

>> For more on Dan Roam, go here. <<

100 Mysteries & Thrillers to Read in a Lifetime

AgathaThe Amazon editors have spent the last few months putting together a list of what we're calling 100 Mysteries & Thrillers to Read in a Lifetime-- a list of books that will make any person well-read in the genre. As in all lists of this sort, it's a subjective business; but that was half the fun. As Sara Nelson, our Editorial Director, likes to say, we're a pretty opinionated group when it comes to this sort of thing. So we argued, yes, but we're happy with the end result. We hope you are, too. If you're not, you can go to Goodreads to vote for your own favorites.

Here are some interesting details about our list:

  • We did not want to play favorites, so we listed the books in alphabetical order.
  • That said, there's only one author who appears twice on the list: Agatha Christie.
  • The first book on the list, A Coffin for Dimitrios, has even been read by James Bond (in the film version of "From Russia with Love").
  • We included four books for children and young adults. It's never too early to start.
  • Two books are only available as ebooks.
  • We included just a bit of true crime, namely In Cold Blood.
  • The last book left off the list was The Godfather.

Peter Matthiessen Dead at 86

Matthiessen2Peter Matthiessen died today at 5:15pm EST after an illness of some months. He was 86 years old.

Matthiessen was born in New York in 1927. Shortly after graduating from Yale, he embarked for France, where he co-founded The Paris Review. (He later disclosed that he was working for the CIA at the time and used the Review for cover.) An active environmentalist and champion of human rights, Matthiessen produced such great works as The Snow Leopard, At Play in the Fields of the Lord, and In the Spirit of Crazy Horse. His epic Shadow Country, three novels that he painstakingly reworked into one volume, covers the life of Edgar J. Watson, Florida sugarcane farmer and infamous murderer. Shadow Country won the National Book Award in 2008. 

Matthiessen worked up to his death, and his last novel In Paradise, set during a spiritual retreat in Auschwitz, will be published on April 8.

The Amazon editors recently spoke with Peter Matthiessen.

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